Monday, April 22, 2013

Moving

Kin & Kind is moving. Today I started blogging on the Times of Israel website. Please join me there.

http://blogs.timesofisrael.com/kin-kind/



Monday, April 15, 2013

Tao and the Jewish State

There is a certain stately progression on the Day of Remembrance for the Fallen (Yom HaZikaron). 

Around 4 pm.  TV programming starts dying off; almost every channel wraps up programming for the next 24 hours or so. The only ones left are the Israel broadcast channels and they've moved on to somber things. Radio is still working, but every station is broadcasting low-key, minor-chord music.

7pm. Showers all around, we all change into white or black shirts. Joking dies down gradually.

7:30. Start walking up the street to Kiryat Ono's "Gan HaGiborim" (Heroes' Garden). A rather beautiful square park that is almost never used during the year. There are no games for the kids there, no stores, no coffee shops. Just a large, well-tended garden and a spartan wall with names on it. This is where we honor the fallen from our little town. It's not far, maybe ten minutes away, walking slowly.

Along the way we meet people that we haven't seen in a while, the normal impulse to greet them effusively is muted. What's the etiquette here? The day of mourning has not yet started, but it's very clear that smiles and hugs are no longer appropriate.

We make it to the garden and find a perch on the low wall that surrounds it. My nine-year old son and a friend of his are with us and we want them to be able to see. We wait.

The square is filling up. It's close to 8 o'clock and I can see three men walking fast up the avenue, trying their best to make it to the square before the ceremony starts. I can tell that they're seriously weighing whether to break into a trot and from their faces I get the distinct impression that they think it would be undignified and inappropriate to the time and place. 

At any rate. They make it to the square just in time.

8 o'clock. The lights in the Heroes' Garden are dimmed and the air-raid sirens start. Not up and down, but constant and relentless. And in that great and terrible noise I hear the scream of every mother that has just been told her son has died in battle. I can hear sirens going off in the neighboring towns like some tortured chorus singing at the gates of Hades. Can the human heart resonate to a siren like a glass of wine to a high note? For sixty seconds at 8 o'clock last night, like every year, this becomes a pressing existential question.

And then the siren is over and the ceremony begins. The flag is lowered to half-staff and the town's mayor gets up to speak. We leave. He's ok, the mayor, but after him comes the cheap pol that is Kiryat Ono's rabbi, and him I cannot stomach. So we leave.

Next morning, 10:55 am. I am standing on the overpass above Highway 4, waiting for the siren. I want to be with others when it goes off, I want to see the cars stopped on the highway. Cars are already stopping, people getting out slowly. The sirens go off, time stops for two minutes. A late model Mercedes on the highway is speeding past the  cars that are stopped on the shoulder. Through the windshield I can clearly see the driver. Suddenly, the dime drops on  the driver: Today is that day, and now is that time. He slams on the brakes, fishtails to the side and gets out of his car. Even from the overpass I can tell that he is deeply embarrassed.

Yom HaZikaron, 11am

And for most of the country that's it. That's our day of mourning. Sure, the TVis still in quiet mode but life is slowly getting back to normal. There are things to do and not a lot of time to do them, for tomorrow is Independence Day and we must get ready for the celebrations.

Officially, Yom HaZikaron ends tonight, a second before Yom HaAtzmaut commences. I am told that the founders of the state did this on purpose, so that it would be clear to all of us for all time what was the price we paid for our freedom. I get it, I really do. It's a Tao thing, no black without white, no joy without sorrow, and from the sorrow cometh joy. 

The problem is that it ain't working. We are not Taoists here. We can't absorb the interplay of Yin and Yang in its entirety, so instead we cope. We leave the Yin behind slowly, trying to honor the dead but conscious that we'll be having the party of the year tomorrow.

Can we honor the fallen as is their due, and then be joyous tomorrow?

The truth is, we can't. So I see my fellow citizens moving away from Yom HaZikaron while still in the middle of it. It's inevitable I guess. The sentiment from the price we have paid is too raw, too exposed. We need to put distance between Yin and Yang. We cannot accommodate the darkness and the light in the same space so we force a gap between them. 

I wish the powers that be would move Yom HaZikaron up by a day and give us 24 hours between one and the other. I want us all to be able to mourn the fallen and honor their memory for a full day. And then I would ask for an extra day to shift from sorrow to joy. Is that too much to ask?

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Winners and Losers

So, over one- hundred people killed, millions of dollars in property damages on both sides, entire populations under siege, and two weeks later we really must ask ourselves, who the fuck won?

Sorry, did the adult language above offend you? I don't often write using expletives but sometimes they are completely necessary. I am angry and frustrated by the results of operation ""Pillar of Defense." If for no other reason that neither I nor most of the civilian population in Israel have the least idea what it is that we were trying to accomplish. I assume that it had something to do with stopping rockets, mortars, and other assorted instruments of death from raining down on us. OK, that's a good objective in that it is measurable at least. Of course we must ask ourselves why now, why not six months ago, why not a month from now. It's not like the rockets are a new thing, they've been doing that for a while, and I would hazard a guess that, left to their own devices they'll probably keep doing it.

Here the cynic will say: "it happened just now because it couldn't happen before during the U.S. elections."
Me: "I guess I can see that. Maybe. But what woul have been so wrong about next week, or next month for that matter?"
Cynic: "Next month are the Israeli elections. The whole circuswas designed to portray Bibi as strong, enhance his credentials as leader of the nation in her time of dire need. You do that before the election, dufus, not afterwards. Duh."

Maybe. Maybe the guys in the tinfoil hats are right, but I don't buy it. It's not that I don't feel that the current leadership isn't venal enough to do such a thing. I do think that, and of course they are. Venal? They'd throw grandma under the bus and hold her down while she's run over if they thought it'd help them any. But as much as this hurts me to say, this not venality, it's posturing. It's macho bravado gone terribly, terribly wrong. From where I stand this looked nothing so much as two assholes bragging about whose car has got the bigger engine and then, bizarrely, deciding that the best way to settle the argument would be not with a drag race, but with a friendly game of chicken. And just to make it interesting, why don't we put the whole of the civilian population in the backseat. What could possibly go wrong?

So? Who won? Well, it sure as shit wasn't us. I don't think that there is anyone that thinks that the Hamas guns have gone silent for good. "Pillar of Defense"? Don't crack me up, big stinking pile of... well, you get the idea. So, if we didn't win, was it the psychopaths that won? No, not them either. If you don't believe me go ask el-Jabri, now rotting in the ground.

So who won? No one.

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Raining Cats 'n Dogs

So it's been about ten months since I posted here. So sue me, I've been very, very busy launching a hi-tech start-up. Very difficult to shift from one mode of thinking to the other, at least for me. That said, the last few weeks have provided inspiration and plenty of fodder for this space.

So earlier this week I posted something on Facebook that really should have been here. It started as a short "we're all ok" mini-post after sirens went off in our town and it quickly metastasized into something else. It does paint a picture though, and should explain something about Israel and Israelis.  So here goes:

You've heard the expression "herding cats?" How about "raining cats and dogs?" Picture the following scenario as though it were happening to you.



You are home with a sore throat, and then all kinds of crap break loose:

A siren- loud, so loud. Going up and down. Unused as you are to something like that it takes you a second or two to recognize it for what it is: this is your wake-up call, your ps
ychotic neighbors to the south are trying to kill you and you have only a few seconds to get to the bomb shelter in your basement.

The mother of all adrenalin rushes hits you.
1. Get wife moving towards the basement.
2. Get kid home from school with a sore throat moving towards the basement.
3. Argue with wife, briefly, whether we really can afford the time to take the cat and the dog to the basement with us.
4. Lose the argument.
5. Find said cat and dog are sitting just outside the front door, looking a little shook up.
6. Herd said cat and dog to the basement. Easier said than done, the very large dog has never been to the basement and is distinctly disinclined to go down, hence the "herding" part.
7. Physically shove cat and dog down the stairs. Wife and kid are, thankfully, already there. Said shoved cat and dog more or less fall on family, like rain.
8. Wait in the basement for about 15 seconds. Feel, more than hear two strong booms.
9. Ask one another "is that it? Can we leave now?"
10. Check with the two other kids whether everyone is ok.
11. Get the shakes from the post-adrenalin rush.
12. Rest.
13. Post experience to Facebook in the hope that this will paint a picture for our friends abroad.
14. Go have lunch.

Saturday, January 14, 2012

A Nation of Cynics

Two very different men jumped into the political arena last week: Noam Shalit, the engineer from the north and the father of Gilad Shalit and Yair Lapid, the TV and newspaper personality and son of the late Tommy Lapid, TV and newspaper personality, Knesset member, and government minister.

I was surprised to see that the reaction to their announcements was very similar. Cynicism. A knee-jerk reaction that these to must be joining the political game for personal gain. That they couldn't possibly be doing what they're doing for, let's not say 'pure,' but at least untainted reasons. I found these attitudes to be widespread, in the media, among friends and family, almost everywhere.

It's hardly surprising. We live in a place that seems to feed cynicism and feed from it. A long line of politicians have shown us that we have plenty of reasons to suspect their motives. This applies to politicians from all sorts of parties and not just recently but for a very long time. I'm sure that among our Knesset members there are some that truly think of themselves as public servants; it's just hard to see them. They are buried under the mountain of cheap political operatives whose main driving philosophy is "what's in it for me?" It is these same operatives that benefit from feeding the cynical wave. If everyone is just looking out for him or herself, goes the logic, then there's little sense in exchanging one bum for another.  Shalit and Lapid however, appear to be pols of a different sort and that should worry the entrenched interests. 

Yair Lapid
Consider Lapid's case. Lapid's entry into politics is a good example of an argument against self-interest. It's hard to see how getting elected to the Knesset, even if he makes it there as the head of a largish party, and even if he's named senior minister in the next government, will benefit him. Certainly not financially. Knesset members and ministers make good money, but not when compared to the kind of money that Lapid made until last week as a news anchor (not to mention the income from his regular column in a major newspaper and his very many speaking engagements). The bottom line is that he'll be taking a large cut to his bottom line. So it must be power, right? That's what must be driving him. Well, maybe. To some degree. Even if he's named minister of something relevant (and quite a few of the current batch of "ministers" don't really have enough to do to fill up their days), it'll take time and a lot of effort to make changes, so I don't see how that can be perceived as being any more fun or more fulfilling than his current positions, where he enjoys a great deal of influence and doesn't have to deal with the very dirty business of politics.


Noam Shalit, in a quieter moment
Shalit's case is different, of course. Noam Shalit's job for the last five years was getting his son released from his Hammas kidnappers. He did this by putting pressure on the politicians to do their job. In the process he built an organization that mobilized a huge chunk of the country. Five years later and after bringing Gilad home he must have looked in the mirror and seen a changed man, how could he not. As it happens, Sweetie knows Shalit slightly, having volunteered extensively for the Gilad campaign. She confirmed my earlier intuition, that whatever faults Shalit might have, cynical self-interest is not one of them. I'll bet pounds to pennies that Shalit truly sees public service as a way of giving back. 

Shalit is running within the Labor Party, so I wouldn't vote for him for all the tea in China, but that's because the Labor Party is a dud. Stupid choice of party for him, but not a cynical one, not by a long shot. I've read in quite a few articles that his running for office is an abuse of his notoriety (this one's a good example). Really? I wonder how these writers would feel if Shalit had picked a party that they themselves favor. Food for thought.

Which brings another thought to mind. If Bibi was expecting for Shalit to exhibit some sort of misplaced loyalty and support him in the next elections, he must be sorely disappointed. 

Bibi's future?
And speaking of Bibi (I can't seem to write a single column that ignores him), he reacted to the news of Lapid's entry into politics by being dismissive and derisive in what was clearly an attempt to hide how distraught he really was. Bibi would like nothing better than to make us all believe that Lapid is just as cynical, just as manipulative, just as self-interested as he himself is. Because if we take Lapid at his word, then Bibi is toast.


Two quotes to wrap things up:

Cynicism is the intellectual cripple's substitute for intelligence.
Factionalism is the abiding human need to create group conflicts based on religion, politics, race, gender, class 
or whether toilet paper should be pulled over or under the roll.
from The Cynic's Dictionary






Sunday, December 18, 2011

Food is an important part of a balanced diet


Ich bin ein Berliner
On June 26, 1963 Jack Kennedy spoke four words of German during a speech in Berlin, "Ich bin ein Berliner," and drew a large line in the sand in front of the Communist menace. What JFK mean to say was, "I am Berliner," of course. For years I went about my business believing a common misconception that although well intended, what Jack's words had actually meant was "I am a jelly-filled donut." You see, a 'berliner' is a particular type of German pastry similar in many ways to American jelly-filled donuts. As it turns out, there are some exquisitely precise and pedantic rules in the German language (insert your own joke on German national stereotypes) dealing with who gets to say "Ich bin Berliner" (an actual Berliner) and who should say, like Kennedy did, "Ich bin ein Berliner," (everyone else) meaning, "I'm not a real Berliner but I'm saying that I am in solidarity with you."

You are what you eat
If it's true that you are what you eat, then during the Hanukkah season most Israelis should say with JFK, "I am a Berliner." The only difference is that we call our berliners "sufganiot."  
Traditional Jelly-filled Hannukah Donuts (Sufganiot)
Holiday-specific foods figure large in Israeli culture and Hanukkah is no exception. If you're not familiar with the Hannukah myth, it goes something like this (and I'm oversimplifying things here greatly): 
  • Greeks conquer Israel, use the Temple for... whatever.
  • After rebelling against the Greeks (Syrians really, but let's not get into that just now), the Maccabees decide that they should rededicate the temple. Sorry, the Temple. 
  • To do this, they needed a special kind of oil to light candles for eight days. Problem is, they can't find the right kind of oil anywhere. After much searching they do find one container of oil, good for maybe one day of light. 
  • Undeterred, the decide to use the oil and light the lights.
  • When they go and check on the empty oil container the next day... a miracle! It still holds enough oil for one (extra) day!
  • This business with the oil goes on for eight more days until extra quantities of suitable hydrocarbons can be found or manufactured.
  • Ta-dah, the Festival of Lights is born.

Fast forward roughly twenty-two hundred years and the way we celebrate the festival of lights is by eating as many oily foods as we can cram into our bodies. Deep-fried hash browns? Bring them on. Deep-fried 'Berliners'? Let me have a dozen. Per family member. Per day. 

The Higgs Boson
Hanukkah is the time of year when cardiologists go on high alert (think CPAs on April 14th) and hospitals stock up on industrial grade degreasing agents. I don't want to overstate matters, but these donuts are not your run-of-the-mill jelly-filled poseurs. The obscenities that you can buy at any Krispy Kreme are a light and fluffy souffle by comparison. 

Let me put it another way. The scientists at the Large Hadron Collider have been hard at work looking for something called a Higgs boson, which is the subatomic particle that actually confers mass to everything. Just last week we heard from them that they thought that they had found evidence for the boson but that it wasn't quite conclusive yet.

Silly, silly, physicists with IQs in the high 190s. If you are going to look for the particle that makes up mass, shouldn't you be looking for it in something well, massive? All you have to do to find the boson is ship some of our donuts from Israel to Geneva and stick them into your accelerator. Results guaranteed.

CERN, looking for bosons in all the wrong places.


Darwin Wept
When I came to live in Israel in the late 90s, it was easy to escape the torture-by-fritter that sufganiot embody.  Back then, all sufganiot were filled with some sort of reddish jelly (strawberry or raspberry, it was difficult to tell from the flavor alone). Large, oily, and hardly fresh, they were easy to avoid. I'm sure that they were enticing to kids, but having even one during the eight days of Hannukah was more than enough.

And then they mutated. In a display of adaptability that would have made Darwin weep with joy, the donuts became smaller and started adding flavors and textures. It started out slow. For a couple of years a limited number chocolate-filled donuts appeared, still large but you could tell at a glance that these were not your grandpa's donuts. Then they subdivided like single-cell organisms and became smaller; more flavors started showing up at the bakery: dulce de leche made its entrance, then vanilla, then coconut, halvah a couple of years later. 

And now we're surrounded, there is no escape.


To make matters worse, they're only here for the Hannukah season and then they're gone. Get them now or make do without them for a year. Damn.

Did I mention they're delicious?

Happy holidays everyone!




Thursday, November 24, 2011

Beer

Last week I had the opportunity to taste for the first time two beers produced in the area. On Wednesday I went out with some friends to a micro-brewery that's been operating for a couple of years now and tried their wheat beer. On Saturday, we were invited to a very interesting tour of Nazareth; when that was done we found ourselves with some friends at a wonderful restaurant that served, among many others, Taybeh beer.

One of these two beers was atrocious and the other one was really good, which led me to think that I really should blog about the experience. I kept thinking about it as the "Zionist" beer vs. the "Palestinian" beer. I was already to make all sorts of analogies between the two beers and their methods of production, maybe trying to stretch the analogy to encompass a larger statement about the entrepreneurial culture in each of the peoples, natch, the very culture of the two peoples.

Sometimes, I'm just full of crap.

I got pulled into the trap of seeing everything around here, including food and drink, through the lens of national conflict. Beer wouldn't be the first victim of this distortion. Some idiots on both sides have been waging an ongoing battle of falafel. Yes, falafel. Little balls made out of garbanzo beans, deep-fried in oil and served in a pita. A battle of that. Who can make the bigger falafel portion and so get into Guiness's Book of World Records.

I understand about national pride and looking for ways to bring honor to your nation, but falafel? Really? What's next, changing the words of the American anthem? And the burners red glare, the chickpea balls bursting in air. Not only does it kill the metric, it really doesn't have that ring of authenticity, does it?

Silly, I know. So why is the drive of nationalistic politics so seductive? No, not seductive, that implies that there was some persuasion involved. So ingrained. I didn't see it coming and it got me good. It might have been Albert Einstein that said, "I don't know what fish talk about, but it isn't water," and that is the best explanation I can give. This nationalistic mumbo-jumbo works on all of us because it is so pervasive. It just permeates every aspect of our living to where we don't even notice it. Like fish and water, it has become part of the context in which we live, defining so many of our choices without us even being aware of it.

So last week I went out twice with friends and had two different beers. From one of those beers I'll happily have a second and a third glass. From the other, let's just say that the glass I already had was worth three: first, last, and one too many. And no, I'm not going to tell you which was which.

Just to close the subject, some more words of wisdom from W.C. Fields:

I never drink water. Fish f*** in it.